By: Abbey D'Agostino
What if in January, instead of resolving to more, better, faster, we resolved to less, imperfect, slower? This is the intention I’ve set for this first month of 2018 – not by choice, but by necessity.
Flashback to December 15, 2017, the day before I planned to run my first track race since the Olympics: a 3k indoors at a Boston University mini-meet and an attempt to run the World Indoor qualifying standard of 8:51:00 (also a PR). I rolled out of bed that morning with a sore throat and the chills, but wrote it off as a change-in-the-season cold. As soon as I headed out the door for my 30-minute shake-out run, however, I was weighted by discomfort. I felt unfamiliar: feverish, lethargic, and the aware of that nagging spot on my shin that had been bothering me for months. Though I managed to plod my way through, my post-run easy strides were an undue struggle and by the last one, I was swallowing tears. Despite the “low-key” nature of that meet, I did not want to debut on the track without feeling 100% ready.
After some introspection and several conversations, I decided to scratch from the race. Within the next few days, this became a blessing in disguise – an MRI on my shin revealed an early stress reaction and my “change-of-the-season” cold had actually been signs of the flu.
You would think at that point, I had received enough "nudges" to stop and reevaluate what had been my plan: to ramp up my training and intensity over the weeks ahead.
But instead, as I’ve done tenfold times, I put my head down and plowed forward, failing to remember the lessons I'd learned last time this happened. Over Christmas “break”, I squeezed in pool sessions between family parties and awkward holiday YMCA hours, woke up early for workouts before flights, and before I knew it, ran myself to the ground… again.
This finally dawned on me a few days after Christmas, while working out in a tiny Y near Jake’s family in West Virginia. We were pressed for time because of a family event later that evening: I had 45 minutes to change, workout, and (maybe) shower. I jumped on the elliptical for 30 minutes, neurotically checking my heart rate to ensure I was getting a decent workout. But about halfway through, as if someone had placed a magnifying mirror in front of my face, I felt slapped into reality: What in the world am I doing? Why do I feel so exasperated and rushed? I finally admitted my fear of losing fitness, and how badly I wanted to run a fast 5k this spring. But then I came to terms with the fact that I did not have control of the timeline.. and that forcing workouts during the critical period of healing was actually impeding my goal. I must continue believing wholeheartedly in my dreams, but also recognize that they usually come slower and more painfully than I desire.
As many of us know well, there is nothing like illness or injury to require a real “pause” in our lives. Sometimes, physical breakdown is the only thing that can snap us out of operating over-capacity. For me, over-capacity meant: re-entry to racing, the holidays, wedding planning, contract renewal, discussions with my fiancé (Jacob) about possible relocation next year, and tying up loose ends at home before a 5-week altitude stint in Flagstaff. Though I knew I was stressed, my pride kept me from addressing it... until my circumstances forced me to do so.
These moments in life are opportunities to “check and adjust” – a phrase Jacob often uses for times when the unexpected strikes. It means stopping everything to reevaluate the current path: radically accepting what is to assess what's next. The long-term goal can remain the same -- be it PR-ing in the 5k, finding a new job, kicking an old habit -- all that may change is the means of achieving it. "Check and adjust" offers grace where there is imperfection. And more often than not, the adjustments become even better than the original plan.
For as long as I set standards of perfection -- more, better, faster -- I will never allow myself to slow down, check and adjust. Until I accept my lack of total control, life will continue to humble and slow me, first. This change will take time for stubborn folks, like me :), but because of the constant grace God offers me, I (all of us!), have hope!